The gameplay in Majora’s Mask expands upon that of Ocarina of Time; retaining puzzles based on the use of different weapons and music, while also introducing masks, character transformations, and the limit of a three-day cycle. As in previous installments of the series, Link has basic actions including walking, running, and limited jumping, and uses many items to battle enemies and to solve puzzles; the sword, shield and bow and arrows being the most commonly used. He has several sword techniques, and more can be learned throughout the course of play. Link can stun enemies with Deku Nuts, then inflict damage with another weapon. Bombs can be used to damage enemies and clear other obstacles, while the Hookshot is capable of latching onto an enemy and pulling it towards Link or for latching onto an object to pull Link himself to it.
Masks and transformations
Masks first appeared as a side-quest in Ocarina of Time, but play a more important role in Majora’s Mask. Whereas Ocarina of Time has a few masks of which only one can be carried at a time, Majora’s Mask has twenty-four masks, several of which are required to progress through the game.
Unlike previous Zelda titles, Link can transform at will into different species: the Deku Mask transforms Link into a Deku Scrub, the Goron Mask into a Goron, and the Zora Mask into a Zora. Each transformation grants unique abilities: the Deku Scrub can perform a spin dash, shoot bubbles from its mouth, skip on water a limited number of times (being incapable of swimming), and glide for a short time by launching from Deku Flowers. The Goron transformation can roll around at high speeds, punch with deadly force, stomp the ground with his massive body, enter lava without damage, and weigh down heavy switches with his girth. The Zora transformation can use its sleek body to swim rapidly, throw boomerang-like fins from his arms, generate a force field, and sink to walk on the floors of bodies of water. Many areas of the game can only be accessed by Link’s use of these abilities.
Link and his three transformations receive different reactions from various non-player characters. For instance, the Goron and Zora are allowed to exit Clock Town, but the Deku Scrub looks like a child and the guards do not permit him to pass. Many animals also interact differently with all four forms of Link. For example, Link’s normal form receives an indifferent response from dogs, which will go about their business as they would in Ocarina of Time. The Deku Scrub transformation, however, will be attacked if he goes near a dog, the Goron transformation will frighten the dog away, and the Zora transformation makes the dog chase him happily.
A special mask called the Fierce Deity’s Mask can be obtained at the end of the game if all of the other masks have been located. The Fierce Deity’s Mask transforms Link into a larger, more powerful version of himself, with characteristic face markings, malicious-looking white eyes, a silver tunic, and mystical torso armor. He also uses a large two-handed sword which is capable of shooting bursts of energy when targeting an enemy. To counter its power, the mask may only be used during boss battles. The Fierce Deity features the same voice as the adult form of Link from Ocarina of Time.
Aside from the transformation masks, many masks provide some sort of situational benefit. For example, the Great Fairy’s Mask helps retrieve the stray fairies scattered throughout the four temples; the Bunny Hood allows Link to run faster; and the Stone Mask turns Link invisible to most non-player characters and enemies. Less valuable masks, however, are usually involved only in optional side-quests or very specialized situations. Examples are the Postman’s Hat, which allows Link access to an item hidden in a mailbox, and Kafei’s Mask, which initiates a long and complicated side-quest that offers several masks as prizes.
Majora’s Mask is unique among Zelda games because it imposes a time limit; specifically, a time limit of three days (72 hours) game-time, which is the same as 72 minutes in real time. Therefore, the player is forced to clear dungeons and accomplish tasks quickly. The player is reminded of how many “hours” remain at each sunrise and sunset. Link is able to return to the Dawn of the First Day by playing the Song of Time on the Ocarina of Time, which was given to him by Princess Zelda following the events of the previous game in the Zelda series, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. If the player fails to return to the First Day before the three days end, the moon will crash into Clock Town, thus destroying Termina and negating any progress the player has achieved since the last time the Song of Time was played.
A clock at the bottom of the screen tracks the hour and how much time is left. One hour in the game is approximately one real-time minute. Before the end of the seventy-two game hours, Link must return to the Dawn of the First Day with the Song of Time to repeat the cycle. By doing so, Link is stripped of minor items collected during that cycle, including rupees, bombs and arrows, but major items such as masks, key event items, and weapons remain (rupees stored in the bank however can be retrieved even after going back in time). If Link does not return and the Moon crashes, he will still return to the Dawn of the First Day, but all progress made since the last time the Song of Time was used, including the acquisition of major items and weapons, will be lost.
Once the cycle restarts, all of Link’s actions from the previous cycles are undone, including any progress in uncleared dungeons, and he may need to do them again. However, if a dungeon has been cleared, Link retains the key item won in that dungeon, and can rematch the boss if desired—a first for a Zelda game.
Link is not the only character who is concerned with time. Non-player characters have schedules they follow during the cycle and most of them are in need of help in some way. Using a notebook called the Bombers’ Notebook given to him in Clock Town, Link can keep track of the schedules of multiple people and identify the crucial points at which he may intervene to assist. By timing his actions to arrive at the correct moment and resolve problems ranging from providing a soldier with medicine to reuniting an engaged couple, Link can earn masks and other beneficial items to aid him. Often, certain events will only be possible on certain days, and only if other events have already happened. These times and conditions are tracked in the Bomber’s Notebook.
Link can also manipulate time’s flow by changing how he plays the Song of Time. If Link plays each note twice, he will play the “Song of Double Time”, and move ahead to the beginning of the next morning or evening (at six o’clock AM or PM). If he plays the Song of Time backwards, the “Inverted Song of Time” will cause time to move at half-speed, doubling the amount of time Link has before having to return to the First Day.
The Ocarina of Time, a mystical instrument given to Link, plays an important role in Majora’s Mask. As in the previous game, Link learns to play magical songs from those he meets in order to gain special abilities, ranging from controlling the weather to such powers as teleportation and time travel. Each transformation mask uses a different instrument: Deku Link plays the Deku pipes, Goron Link plays a set of bongo drums, and Zora Link plays the fishbone guitar. Jackson guitars released a very limited edition 7 string replica of this guitar called the Zoraxe.
The most important song in the game is the Song of Time. It is used to return Link to the beginning of the first day; this is the only way to revisit the three-day cycle and permanently save one’s progress; and playing the song notes in reverse will make time flow slower, while playing the first three notes twice each will make Link advance in time, to the next dawn/night (but cannot go beyond the night of the Final Day, as it leads to the end of the world). Other songs are primarily used for a plot-related effect, such as opening a new path. The Elegy of Emptiness is unique in that it is used extensively as a puzzle in one of the dungeons. Also, the Song of Healing is used in both the main storyline as well as several side-quests to unlock more items. Finally, songs like the Song of Soaring exist for the player’s convenience, allowing teleportation to major locations and making it easier to do the many odd-jobs and available side-quests.
Majora’s Mask begins with Link riding his horse Epona through the Lost Woods after the events of Ocarina of Time, where he is ambushed by a Skull Kid wearing a mask and his fairy friends, Tatl and Tael. They steal Epona and the Ocarina of Time from Link and run to a cave; Link follows and is turned into a Deku Scrub by the Skull Kid. The Skull Kid runs away with Tael, leaving Tatl behind after a door closes in front of her. She cannot open it and apologizes to Link, offering to help restore his natural form.
Link follows the Skull Kid through the cave to Clock Tower in Termina. He meets the Happy Mask Salesman, who says he can help Link if he retrieves the Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask from the Skull Kid. They exit the Clock Tower in the center of Clock Town, which is preparing for its annual festival, the Carnival of Time. Link learns the moon in the sky has abandoned its orbit, and will crash into Termina in three days. He confronts the Skull Kid and Tael at midnight of the third day at the top of Clock Tower. He cannot take the mask, but he retrieves the Ocarina of Time and plays the Song of Time to send him back to when he first arrived in Termina.
Link sees the Happy Mask Salesman, who teaches him the Song of Healing. It returns Link to his human form, leaving him the Deku Mask. The Happy Mask Salesman tells Link that Majora’s Mask grants its wielder’s wishes, but possesses them with an evil, apocalyptic power. The ancient ones, fearing catastrophe, “sealed the Mask in shadow forever”, to prevent its misuse. This tribe vanished and the origin and nature of the Mask was lost. The Skull Kid, possessed by Majora’s Mask, is responsible for the moon threatening to destroy Termina.
Link travels between the four major lands of Termina: a poisonous swamp, an icy mountain, a murky bay, and a haunted canyon. Link enters a dungeon in each, defeating a boss that gives Link the power of one of the four giants that can save Termina. When all four have been completed, Link calls the giants, who halt the moon’s passage towards Termina. Majora’s Mask rises from the Skull Kid and enters the moon. With the help of Tatl, Link follows and defeats Majora’s Mask. The Four Giants return to their sleep and Tatl and Tael reunite with the now-freed Skull Kid. The Happy Mask Salesman takes Majora’s Mask, saying that the mask has been purified and its evil power has been destroyed. Link rides away on Epona and returns to Hyrule as the Carnival of Time begins. As the credits finish, the Deku Butler is seen mourning over his son. The game ends with a post-credits scene depicting a drawing on a tree stump of Link, Tatl, Tael, the Skull Kid and the four giants with Saria’s song played briefly in the background.